OK, so I recently came across a notice for Android Karenina, apparently the latest pastiche in the wave that began with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and includes titles like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and my favorite title, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim.
So, of course I began to wonder if Mormon titles could be used to create the same kind of work. Will Mormon eventually join this trend?
I haven’t read any of these books yet, so I’m not sure how well these derivatives work. They are often called “mash-ups,” but I don’t think they technically meet the definition, since mash-ups generally include pieces from multiple works and very little that isn’t derived from elsewhere; what used to be called a collage. These works, in contrast, are a single original work combined with new writing from a single author; more like a simplified, open version of the French surrealist game, Exquisite corpse (well, maybe not). But, I must admit, I’m not sure that a true mash-up could even work in literature. Could an author/editor really pull individual paragraphs from any different works and make them work together?
What is unusual with the ‘zombie’ derivatives is not, of course, the fact that they are derivative. Even among the finest literature, producing derivative works has been very successful (Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead comes to mind very readily). And the language of criticism has developed a host of terms to refer to different kinds of derivative works–sequels, prequels, fan fiction, etc. Popular and noteworthy works are regularly condensed, augmented, segmented, use the same setting, mimic the plot, employ the same characters, and expanded ad nauseum. There is even a significant portion of copyright law that is devoted to when these kind of works require the author’s permission.
I think what makes these works so popular is simply the shocking contrast between the original work and the genre it is being transformed into. Could any two genre’s be more different than 19th century drawing-room romances (and other classic genres) and zombie fiction? That may well be why these seem to work, and have attracted so much attention — the novelty of this combination drives the attention these works are getting.
Of course, genre might be best thought of as an indication of a work’s target audience, rather than any indication of how seriously a work can be considered. Which may mean that this combination could attract new readers to each genre. That might make writing this kind of work very interesting — even to Mormon authors.
What gives me pause about using this form of writing in a Mormon context is how the LDS audience might respond. If someone writes Nephites and Zombies, a “mash-up” of the Book of Mormon, would LDS audiences want to read it? Or would it attract fans of Zombie fiction to reading the Book of Mormon?
Derivative works from the Book of Mormon do exist, of course. The first performed Mormon play, Corianton, is based on the Book of Mormon, as are many other works written during the past roughly 110 years since then. In fact, the principle sources for creating derivative works in Mormon literature are the Book of Mormon and stories from LDS Church history (remember that whole Work and the Glory series?), chiefly because they are so familiar with the Mormon audience. Even the once wildly successful Added Upon and its Saturday’s Warrior derivative aren’t nearly as familiar with LDS audiences.
But the status of the Book of Mormon, and the mythology we connect with LDS history might make using them as the source for a “mash-up” problematic. On the other hand, even the New Testament has been used for derivative work (Ben Hur is, of course, derivative), its only when the derivative seems disrespectful of the source that objections arise, such as with Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Even putting derivatives of Mormon works in wildly different genres has worked when the sources have been respected, such as Orson Scott Card managed with his Homecoming Saga and Red Prophet series. But then again, these series weren’t as well known among the LDS audience (they’ve never really been sold in LDS bookstores as far as I’ve ever seen) and on the surface didn’t seem as radical a reworking as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
So, it would be interesting to see someone pull off a radical pastiche like this current literary fad using a Mormon source. I’m still on the fence about whether or not it would be successful.
Perhaps more interesting would be a “mash-up” that creates a Mormon work out of a classic — something that would draw non-Mormon audiences into the Mormon worldview. A Mormon author might feel much more comfortable in that attempt.
So, I’m looking forward to reading Sense and Sensibility and Sister Missionaries.